The paintings vibrate with color — bold greens, golds and blues transport the viewers to a quiet space that flourished during the pandemic and was widely loved for its healing powers, magic and beauty: the South Philly Meadows in FDR Park.
Kate Kern Mundie’s series in oil, REST, captures a moment that the Meadows gifted Philadelphians when they needed it most. In recent weeks the City has moved forward to develop the area in a way that will only preserve slivers of nature after cutting the space open for additional athletic fields. Kern Mundie, an East Passyunk resident, said her work is like a time capsule.
She discovered the Meadows during the pandemic. “I started going almost every week to paint or walk.” She describes her amazement at its evolution from a somewhat overgrown golf course to a wild space inhabited by frogs, songbirds, herons, groundhogs, foxes and praying mantises. She even saw people riding by on horseback. “I was there at dusk one night before the tree removal when a red fox came tearing out of the bushes…The space was big. You could go there and get lost. I’d come home and feel good.”
The master plan for the park was completed before the arrival of COVID. But “through the pandemic, this other option evolved, and people realized they needed this unprogrammed wild space.” She described how it brought out the best in people, and recalled an older Asian couple who came early and walked six laps most days, or the teenagers and kids who built forts nestled among the vines. People went ice skating, and city kids could have that nostalgic experience there, she said. Some created art among the trees. They didn’t leave trash. Despite often going alone, Kern Mundie said she “never had any weird experiences there. People were respectful.”
Under the auspices of the Fairmount Park Conservancy’s Master Plan, large earth movers have carved the ground and ripped down trees to create an idealized version of an urban park, which will provide slices of wetland and wildlife habitat. “It’s not going to be big enough to preserve that ability to lose yourself in the trees and grasses,” Kern Mundie said.
Several of Kern Mundie’s works reflect the change of season and the wilding of the space as she returned to favorite spots and captured the changes of conditions and season on her canvases. One can see the difference in the winter scenes from a freshly lain snow to the brilliance of a sunny day on snowfall days later. “There seemed a moment when we had the potential to change the master plan—maybe it was just preaching to the choir…I began painting with the specter that all of this could be destroyed.”
After taking some time away, Kern Mundie has only just been able to face the park after the earthmovers and feller bunchers cut through the landscape. “The paintings are my protest at what’s been lost. So much has been torn out already.”
Selections from REST are currently on exhibit at the F.A.N. Gallery in Old City. The original works in this collection range from $500 to $1500. For more information, visit thefangallery.com or call 215-922-5155.